Biden Announces First Broadband Grant Winners
UPDATED: First $182 million in grants going to projects in 17 states
By John Eggerton -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/17/2009 12:26:52 PM
There were only 18 winning bidders in 17 states for a total of $182 million in broadband stimulus funds out of a couple billion dollars that needs to be handed out as soon as possible. The balance of the first round of winners will be announced on a rolling schedule between now and February, according to NTIA.
At about $10 million apiece, the grants were a small fraction of that and there were no big-name players among the initial winners.
Most of the just-announced winners are for "middle mile" projects ($121 million to improve connections to communities, with $51.4 million going to last-mile projects that connect end-users like homes, schools and hospitals. Another $7.3 million went to expand computer center capacity in libraries community centers and colleges, with another $2.4 million to promote adoption.
Projects in Georgia, Maine, New York and South Dakota got the middle mile money from NTIA, while the Department of Agriculture's RUS program gave out middle and last-mile money (grants and loans) to Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, Nebraska, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma.
NTIA awarded the adoption money to New Mexico and Washington state, and the computer center funding to Arizona, Minnesota, Washington, Arizona and Massachusetts.
Massachusetts legislators led by Sen. John Kerry were quick to ally themselves with the potential broadband benefits to their constituents, pointing out that Boston had received $1.9 million in computer center money. Kerry called it "a significant step toward bridging the digital divide" and said it would give Boston residents "critical access to computers and new training."
Free Press had nice things to say about the first awards, calling the announcement "a welcome holiday gift for the thousands of Americans living in these areas that have yet to know the transformative benefits of broadband technology," and praising the emphasis on middle mile projects. "We are especially pleased to see the Commerce Department's emphasis on middle-mile grants -- an often overlooked piece of the broadband puzzle that is essential to ensuring that consumers in these areas have access to affordable broadband services that can scale as demand grows," said Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott in a statement.
Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, was also pleased, though said she hoped the rural focus of the first round of broadband grants would be broadened. "The first wave of grants will help Internet connectivity in rural areas. We look forward to projects that will aid urban areas as well," she said. One observer who was underwhelmed by what he suggested were a few drops in too few buckets was Dan Hays, telecom partner in PRTM, a D.C. management consulting firm. "The pace and the magnitude of the awards that have been released has been extremely disappointing. It is extremely small and extremely fragmented."
NTIA and RUS have a total of $7.2 billion to give out in two rounds of funding ($4.7 for NTIA, another $2.5 billion in grants and loans from RUS).
While Biden was talking about the grant money going to a Georgia project, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke was in Maine to plug the $25.4 million that state was getting for infrastructure.
In addition, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to go to Ohio this week to promote the $2.4 million it got for its smart energy grid.
In announcing the first winning projects, Biden related them to job creation, education, and global competitiveness, saying rural communities had just as much going for them as big cities, but needed the tools that broadband could provide to help them compete.
Antonio Luciano - 12/17/2009 2:58:44 PM EST
I'm a rural resident living on the eastern slope of the Sierras. I exist with a 26k dial up connection. Every time I ask AT&T about high speed or broadband they laugh at me and say "not in your lifetime". We have friends attending school at Chico State via computer (it's about 70 miles from where we live). With dial up it takes hours to complete tests or even do normal class work if they dont get dropped. What are you going to do for us?
Jeffey Levine - 12/17/2009 2:53:24 PM EST
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